Want to learn how to get rid of squash bugs, their nymphs, & eggs in an easy, cheap way? Organically control the leaf-footed beetle pests in your garden with this method!
Most of us who are growing a garden right now can commiserate with one another over the persistent problem of squash bugs (otherwise known as leaf-footed beetles or stink bugs) ravaging our summer squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, and winter squash! Well, today I’m going to show you how to kill squash bugs! This awesome garden hack is a total game-changer!
Until now, we’ve been doing one-on-one battles trying to kill squash bugs (adults). And it’s not an easy battle to win!
For the gardener growing organically, rather naturally (not wanting to use even organic pesticides to upset the natural balance of the soil or inadvertently harm the beneficial insect population), this means lots of picking and squishing or drowning of the adults.
But the tables are about to turn, and our problem is about to grow exponentially because it is squash bug hatching season!
The few wily ones that have outwitted us have been laying their beautiful, jewel-like, golden or ruby squash bug eggs on the underside of the host plant’s leaves and they are getting ready to hatch. In fact, where yesterday there were none, today I found several batches had hatched.
What Is a Squash Bug?
When you type “squash bugs” into a google search, the top articles suggest ways to get rid of them. Though these pests are frustrating and serve as every gardener’s sole enemy, let’s learn a bit about them first. Maybe understanding them better will in turn help us understand how to get rid of squash bugs once and for all.
Squash bugs are no walk in the park to kill. Though they are normally found on their namesake plant, the squash, they can also be found on the squash’s cousin, the pumpkin.
Squash bugs are not actually stink bugs, though there is much misconception about the two. The similarities are in how they look and the stench that fills the air when they are killed.
What Do Squash Bugs Look Like?
If you are trying to make sure you have the right bug just by a glance, you can tell by paying close attention to the small unique features on their bodies. They are a pretty big bug at about half an inch long! Their bellies have orange lines, and their bodies are brown or gray. The younger ones have black or grey legs. You will typically find them strolling around plant leaves, though they do have the ability to fly. Squash bugs tend to move around in packs, strolling along the bottoms of leaves with their own kind at a fast pace. Since they move in packs, finding them is not as difficult.
Where do Squash Bugs Hide?
The part you will really have to watch for with these bugs is the way they overwinter in hidden places. Some of these places include dead leaves, in vines, hidden in buildings, and even tucked away under boards. Once winter ends and vines begin forming, they are on their way (by way of flight) to your plants to start mating and laying eggs. These egg-laying sessions come in troves and happen on the underside of leaves. Squash bugs, the sneaky little things, tend to live under leaves that have already been harmed, especially the adults.
How Are Squash Bugs Damaging for Your Garden?
So what are the exact ways these bugs cause damage?
For starters, they are toxic to plants. They inject their God-given toxins into your plant and then cause ultimate harm by sucking the sap out of the plant. And all of this is done with only their mouth! After the plant experiences this assault, you will begin to see yellow spots, that ultimately turn brown, on it. They essentially suck the life out of the plant and ruin the pathways for nutrients to reach the leaves. The end game looks like black, ragged, and brittle leaves. These terrible bugs can harm your premature squash and kill your small plants quickly, with no regard for your hard work.
A good thing to keep in mind when dealing with any garden bug is the distinct similarities and differences all pests cause in their damage. This bug’s damage can easily be mixed up with the cucumber beetle, so make sure you keep an eye out for the ways in which the squash bug differs in its destruction!
How to Get Rid of Squash Bugs: Preventing
Prevention may be one of the most critical factors in learning how to get rid of squash bugs and all pests in general. As the saying goes, work smarter rather than harder.
Things You Should Do
- In fall, burn (or compost) your old squash vines. The reason for this is to prevent squash bugs from housing themselves in these vines over the winter. The best way to avoid squatters is to take away their ability to squat in the first place, right?
- Another great preventative is crop rotation. Get one step ahead of these bugs by mixing it up each season. Do this by planting your veggies in different areas of your garden. It’s not a bad idea to begin making this rhythm a habit.
- Did you know there are varieties of squash that squash bugs do not enjoy? Actually, squash types like butternut, sweet cheese, and toral acorn are resistant to these bugs. Get your hands on some of these types so you can stay away from the squash bug epidemic, yet still, enjoy the delicious goodness of squash!
- Another great idea is to try companion planting, which is an immediate squash bug repellent. Plants like tansy and nasturtium sitting around your squash may really keep these pests at bay. If you are looking for some plants that are more useful for your everyday rhythms but also keep squash bugs away, try some of these:
- One last great way to get rid of squash bugs is to invest in a vine covering. This solution will keep your vines safely unavailable for squash bugs until they begin to bloom. And don’t fear, you can always remove the cover for pollination.
Things You Should Avoid
- Spring planting – If you want to stay one step ahead of the buggers, do not plant until the beginning of the summer months. If you do plant in spring, keep in mind that timing matters and that there are ways to outsmart squash bugs. There is only one generation of these pests per year, and the best time to cover up the squash (see above tip) is at the beginning of spring.
- A messy garden – A good way to make sure your squash plants don’t get ingested is by avoiding a messy garden… keep your garden clean. All the extra stuff from the last season has to go. That means the plant leftovers: vines, leaves, and all the other things you will find in the wake of the previous harvest. Clean up after yourself if you don’t want these bugs to create a breeding ground out of your mess.
- Straw and hay – Squash bugs enjoy straw and hay. These two things create a safe haven for these pests to get comfortable in, so stay away from creating cool mulches that go deep.
- Avoid mulch! – Bugs love to hide in mulch because they can live under it and stay protected. Mulch can be an excellent tool for weed control and keeping in excess moisture, but it is not worth it if it will also attract squash bugs. If you do want to use mulch, keep it away from the plant’s base.
Once squash bugs are full-grown adults, they are not easy to kill or contain once you find an infestation. That means early detection is key!
How to Get Rid of Squash Bugs
Kill Squash Bug Eggs & Nymphs
Last year, I picked the squash eggs off pumpkins with fingernails, getting the eggs stuck under them and often tearing the leaves in the process. My plan for this year was to be on the lookout for the soft-bodied nymphs and squish them as they hatched.
But this morning while chopping potatoes for frying to serve with some scrambled eggs, I listened to a podcast (now defunct) where the lady mentioned that her method of organic control is managing the eggs with a roll of duct tape!!
I dropped my greasy spoon and ran for the barn, grabbed the duct tape, and headed to the garden where I experienced the genius of this idea for myself!
This morning alone I saved my plants from literally hundreds of these little monsters and myself from hours of picking! It was truly shocking. I would never have found all of the nymphs on the pumpkin leaves that were in with the corn…. Not in a million years.
I believe I may have stopped this cycle dead in its tracks with less than an hour’s work.
Tips for How to Get Rid of Squash Bug Eggs
• It is trickier to get the eggs when they have been laid in the corner of the large veins, so I got what I could and the few remaining I picked off with a fingernail.
• Be gentle. Some of the pumpkins had soft leaves, and a bit of the leaf came off with the eggs.
• If you see a squash beetle adult, capture her! I tapped the tape to her back, and she was stuck. I folded the tape piece around her, and she wasn’t going anywhere.
• Ditto for the cucumber beetles. If you happen to see one of them, tap it on their back. I think that’s the quickest way I’ve dealt with those guys so far.
How to Get Rid of Squash Bugs as Adults
Until now, the most successful way that I have found to manage our infestation and learn how to get rid of squash bugs was to mist down the plants with a little peppermint oil diluted in a sprayer of water or using Rhubarb Leaf Pest Spray.
However, that acts more as a temporary repellent, and you have to do it frequently to give your plants a fighting chance.
Another way to get rid of the adult squash bugs (and perhaps the cucumber beetles) on the spot is to use a biodegradable detergent dish soap. The soap works by suffocating the beetle within moments. It worked wonderfully for the squash bugs, But not so much for the cucumber beetles. That’s okay though because I prefer to remove the beetle from the plant before spraying it. I want to make sure the plant isn’t affected in any way, and that the cucumber beetles will fly before allowing that to happen.
The duct tape trick works well to get rid of squash bug adults too. When you tap them with the tape, they stick right to it! (Though I do pinch the tape around them to make sure they don’t fall off.)
Hand Held Vacuum Cleaner
An alternative to duct tape for nymphs and adults would be to get yourself a handheld vacuum cleaner. It’s a lot safer than squishing and works well for catching the ones that almost got away! A hand-held vacuum is also excellent for other garden pests like Cucumber Beetle, Asparagus Beetles, Mexican Bean Beetles, Colorado Potato Beetles, and more!
One final, long-term, goal would be to encourage your garden to become a diverse habitat. A place where predators like frogs and toads can become your greatest allies in the war against the pests!
So, with a little diligence in using these tricks, my garden plants have a fighting chance against these squash bugs! Also, I hope that yours will now too!
Finally, I want to know everything about your experience with squash bugs and how you face them. Please, feel free to ask any further questions in the comments section. I will keep an eye on the comments, in order to give you all the right answers. So, how is your squash beetle war going? If you succeeded, how did you? If not, how do you plan to attack? Share your gardening story with us and keep us posted about how you protect your green friends.